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Lexington Public Schools
Laserfiche Forms for Transportation Registration
Putting the kids on the bus for the first day of school is an annual rite for many families, complete with snapshots and sometimes a few tears. In Massachusetts, the Lexington Public Schools minimize stress on parents and transportation managers alike with a paperless Laserfiche Forms process that orchestrates virtually all of the behind-the-scenes details.
Tense Times in the Transportation Department
The prior registration process involved daunting volumes of paper forms and required tedious manual time/date stamping, alphabetization and data entry. Staff members had to track registrations, check payment calculations and follow up with parents who had made errors. Late registrations and tardy payments held up bus route planning to the last moment.
As Elaine Celi, Lexington’s Transportation Coordinator, recalls, the paper-based process was tough on parents. “Parents had to fill out separate transportation forms for each child. This meant accurately writing out the street address and contact information multiple times.
“On top of that, because the process forced parents to send in full payment with registration forms, many would delay submissions as long as possible.” Subsequent penalties for late payment sparked arguments over illegible postmarks and time/date receipt stamps.
“During the processing period, upset parents would call to verify receipt of registrations, dispute late payments or complain about missing notifications,” says Celi. Her staff was forced to interrupt processing and search through stacks of collated and non-collated forms.
Quick and Easy Registration for Parents
That all changed three years ago when the Lexington Public Schools Transportation Office went live with an eForms registration process. It was an immediate success. “If you asked me to describe the benefits in a single word, it would be ‘Efficiency,’” says Celi.
Now a parent or guardian simply browses to the online Transportation Registration eForm and enters a pre-assigned numerical student ID and date of birth. The form automatically populates most fields, including street address. After-school bus routing options, such as rec center activities and a public transit Flexpass, are easy to select from a drop-down list.
The system automatically calculates distance-based fees based on GIS information and other rules. Assistance-eligible families just check a box to apply for reduced busing fees. Shortly after clicking “Submit,” the system automatically sends a confirmation email to the parent with a completed registration form attached.
Parents love the form. “There’s no printing, no envelope, no stamps,” notes Celi. “The registration process requires a lot less effort, particularly for parents with multiple children. It also eliminates arguments by ensuring accuracy on both sides, which has increased trust between parents and the Transportation Office.”
Accurate, Automatic Processing for Timely Transportation Planning
The majority of the time, registration is completed without any human intervention, beginning with active verification against the student database. Laserfiche also automatically transfers all necessary transaction information to the school’s third-party payment processing service.
The system notifies a Transportation admin of any exceptions such as changes of address or the need to review certain fee-limiting qualifications, such as financial assistance or a family cap on transportation expenses.
Laserfiche also integrates with RouteFinder software for route planning, eliminating another manual data-entry process. School principals receive timely, accurate bus schedules and the bus company has an easier time of assigning buses, drivers and monitors to routes.
Getting There: A Team Effort Built on Mutual Understanding
Three years ago, all this efficiency was just the germ of an idea. Marianne McKenna is the Director of Computing, Information and Technical Services for the Lexington schools. She notes, “We’d been actively getting rid of paper by digitizing documents such as transcripts and setting up electronic formats in Laserfiche going forward.”
Laserfiche workflow was an extension of this effort. “We wanted to see how we could drive more efficiency and faster response times by tackling a process that had due dates,” she says. Transportation Registration emerged as the prime candidate.
A team drawn from the Business Office and IT began meeting. As McKenna comments, “We were all motivated and worked well as a group. Together we learned the vocabulary of workflow. Elaine Celi and her administrative assistant, Adrian Leone, worked hard to articulate what they needed the process to accomplish and kept digging into what happened in their workflow.”
And what happened in that workflow turned out to be quite complex. The team uncovered multiple branches, dependencies, conditional routings and calls to other systems, all of which needed to be mapped into a workflow and integrated with the other electronic resources.
Launch: Converting a Perfect Storm into a Pacific Calm
A variety of factors pointed to a challenging start up. The school system had dropped bus fees substantially to increase ridership in a move to improve campus safety by reducing vehicular traffic due to individual drop-offs and pick-ups. Fees were structured to encourage early registration, effectively doubling from April through July. Meanwhile, the Laserfiche Forms workflow enabled the school system to delay fee collection by suspending credit card and ACH transactions until August 1.
These measures were effective. Ridership soared from 1800 to over 3000, an increase that surely would have swamped the paper process formerly in place.
As things turned out, the launch was a non-event. Parents embraced the eForm. Processing went smoothly and the Transportation Office handled the doubling of ridership with ease.
The Future: A Template for Efficiency
Fast forward to 2015/2016-term registration. By the June 30 deadline some 3100 registrations had been processed. Virtually no updates were required. “In fact, we designed the eForm so it wouldn’t need annual edits, by leaving off the school year, for instance,” says Celi.
McKenna adds, “After launch, we were able to spot workflow steps we could drop here and there. We also better documented the process to clearly understand why, for example, this token needs to go here.”
The Lexington Public Schools and the Town of Lexington (its shared services partner) see more opportunities ahead for Laserfiche Forms. “We plan to use this workflow as our bible for understanding routines like routing and lookups,” says McKenna. “We’re looking at building out a Special Education Transportation form, with the added complexity of special accommodations, medical information and approvals.”
Celi encourages other people in her position to embrace automation with Laserfiche Forms. “Think through your process, every little step, and also think about simplifying it. Pay attention to where you need human intervention and where something like a web service call can move things along.”
That’s what the team at the Lexington Public Schools did. Administrators, parents and students continue to reap the rewards of being able to take the bus – and take it for granted.